Often a child’s first toy may be a teddy bear or other stuffed animal. Stores are full of stuffed toys, and there are even entire companies dedicated to customizing stuffed animals. While adults may think these toys are cute and soft, there’s more potential inside. Children of all ages enjoy these toys, sometimes even becoming attached to the same toy for many years. Stuffed animals offer educational benefits to children of all ages, as follows:
1. Babies: Babies love to touch the surfaces of stuffed toys, feel their bristling whiskers, soft fur and hard eyes. They will chew or suck on these toys, too, so make sure the first few choices are designed to be loved and washed. Avoid small beads or removable parts. Some babies like squeaky toys. The coat or hair should be short and not easy to pull out.
2. Toddlers: Up to the age of two or three, toys should be carefully chosen for durability and safety. Young children are learning empathy along with language and names. Different stuffed animals help young children recognize familiar words like cat, dog, bear, and pig, along with the appropriate sound for each animal. Stuffed toys will be given names and will become constant companions. Emotions are put to the test in these silent friends: they can be thrown, hugged, punched and kissed. Early parenting skills are also practiced, so stuffed animals can be fed, diapered, put to bed, and potty seated. By rehearsing these situations, young children overcome challenges, understand changing expectations, and demonstrate their observations. Stuffed toys can be a child’s first true friend.
3. Preschoolers: At this age, children begin to engage in more imaginative play. Stuffed animals are not restricted by their appearance, so a giraffe can be a princess, an astronaut, a teacher, or even a giraffe. These toys can be included in active play. Children often share their feelings with stuffed toys and can have elaborate conversations. After a stressful day, a child can turn to a stuffed friend and recreate the event, helping them deal with difficult emotions. Just like real pets, stuffed animals can even help children calm down.
4. School-age children: From the age of five, games often reflect children’s preoccupation with the new structures and people in their lives. Stuffed toys can become an entire class of students, the audience at a puppet show, or a band of pirates. At the same time, children may be strongly attached to these toys, even sleeping with them and possibly creating new clothes or building items to expand on previous games.
5. Older children, especially animal lovers, may want to collect unusual stuffed animals. Finding an exotic anteater or platypus becomes a passion. Along with this hobby, children learn to classify animals, natural habitats, and geography. Visiting a local zoo or even another country offers the opportunity to understand sciences like zoology and biogeography. Some children sew stuffed animals for themselves or as gifts for friends or siblings. It’s a wonderful way to learn basic sewing and pattern-making skills, which engages both fine motor coordination and three-dimensional math skills.